“The Chicken Chronicles”–Part XIII

Just when I thought things had simmered down and no more feathers were flying, the debate has heated up again in nearby Layton.  The bold headline in the newspaper said it all: Layton eases rules on chickens.  Apparently, pressure was brought to bear on the city council to amend the zoning ordinance for residential chickens, reducing the size of lots required to house the fowl.  The vote was unanimous and now you only need a 14,000 square-foot lot, down from 16.000 square feet.  I wonder if any of these council members are up for reelection?

This is a game changer and has really ruffled some feathers.  Now as many as 3,370 residences are newly eligible to raise chickens.  Residents still must have a fully-fenced backyard and meet certain distance requirements as before.  Only then can they apply for a permit.  Currently, 13 new families have requested a permit.  People are not exactly flocking to get permits, but next spring, when chicks are available at the farm stores, it could be a different matter.

This vote comes 2 years after the council spent months (I wrote about this in an early Chicken Chronicles) debating the issue and establishing the 16,000 square-foot requirement by a close 3-2 vote.

Not everyone is thrilled.  A Layton resident commented that he couldn’t believe “the council was having this much conversation over chickens”…and he wondered why we are “pandering to a handful of people who want this ordinance changed.”  He pointed out that people move into zoned areas to get away from farm animals.

Another resident brooded about the angle of privacy fencing (for neighbors or the chickens?) taking precedence rather than lot size.  “I get heartburn thinking about it.”  Let’s focus on fencing, not lot size, that way everyone could have chickens; no one would be denied.

Personally, I’m not sure if everyone had high, solid fences and chickens if that would be a good mix in a neighborhood.  I’m trying to imaging this situation in towns I know well back in Pennsylvania: Media, Rutledge, Swarthmore, Ridley Park….  One or two backyard poultry operations are cute and a novelty, but if everyone had chickens….  It boggles the mind.

Published in: on September 25, 2012 at 4:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Blog Stats and other Related Observations

Can you believe it?  I’ve been keeping up with my weekly blog postings now since November of 2009 and have uploaded 157 (this one makes 158) ruminations on life at the top of Utah.  I have a few faithful readers (you know who you are) and other folks dip in and out, depending on Google searches and Facebook reminders.

For those of you who have never tried a blog, it’s actually fun–especially if you don’t mind writing.  Five to six hundred words, what I usually shoot for in length, compiles pretty quickly.  (For example, WordPress tells me I’m at about 100 words right now.)  When I started, I was concerned that I’d run out of topics or things to say.  That hasn’t been the case, as something usually comes up that I can share or comment on.  This week’s topic is a function of WordPress: the site stats.  I can find out by day, week, month, or year how many visitors found my blog (that doesn’t say they actually read a posting) and where they are from.  Do you know that I have had visitors from countries as far flung as Italy, Thailand, and Brazil, and all over the US, especially Alaska, to name a few locations, and my busiest day was December 18, 2009 when 41 people dropped in.  FYI, that was around the time I shared what it was like attending the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert that year.

I can tell you the most popular read: the posting about the new City Creek Mall.  That seems to get a lot of attention (425 hits) and the next most popular commentary was the one I did on noxious weeds in Utah.  Go figure.  After that it was part 3 of a several-part trip diary I shared when I was driving home from a summer visit east 2 years ago.  Again, I’m not sure what makes that so popular, but something must resonate.  As of today, all time views total 4, 536.  That’s pretty amazing for a limited outreach, modest blog.

I keep thinking there must be something I can do with all the archived postings (3 years’ worth) and have been batting ideas around.  Not every posting would be useful, but if I pulled them together thematically somehow, added recipes and got my best friend’s artwork included as illustrations, I thought a print-on-demand book might be a possibility.  Think there’s a market?  Feel free to share your thoughts!

I keep reading the obituaries, hoping for more interesting ones, but the pickings have been slim.  It seems it will take a while to gather enough material to share a posting with you again.  The Chicken Chronicle Series, too, has been quiet.  Seems like the feathers aren’t flying much anymore; I guess the towns have worked out the kinks of backyard poultry and things have simmered down.

The local crime scene has stagnated somewhat (no one’s complaining) and the weather is glorious, so I can’t bemoan any bad temperatures, yet.  We currently have a smoky atmosphere due to wildfires up in Idaho and the wind is blowing from the north, bringing all the haze.  You’re probably all sick, sore, and tired of hearing about the garden, so I won’t bore you with that again.  It’s sufficient to say it was a good year for tomatoes and we’ll be enjoying summer’s bounty all winter in soups, stews, and sauces.

We grew artichokes this summer, but learned we have to pick them at a younger stage.  However, one went to blossom and it’s pretty spectacular, so I’ll leave you with a photo of our artichoke bloom.  This beauty is about 4″ across at the top.

Dazzling artichoke blossom.

Published in: on September 19, 2012 at 3:02 pm  Comments (1)  

Button, Button…Who’s Got the Button?

This week I am falling back on a trusty posting: the latest Islander History article.  I had a lost weekend due to a pinched nerve in my leg which pretty much incapacitated me from searing pain.  On Friday I was trimming back dead pumpkin vines and managed to bulge a disc in my spine, hence the leg pain.  A trip to the doctor’s on Monday after a hellish weekend, obtaining prescription drugs and I am on the mend.  Can at least function in an upright position now.  So I’m glad I had a posting waiting in the wings.

Button, Button…Who’s Got the Button?

We live in an easy-come, easy-go, throw-away society.  But, back in the day when wearing apparel was expensive, and when mothers sewed children’s clothes, repaired tears of all sorts (even adults’ clothing items), and replaced lost buttons, no housewife would be without her sewing kit.  This came in the form of a basket, a small cabinet, or it could even be an old carpet-bag.  It would include thread, pins and needles, carefully saved cloth patches, a darning “egg,” and carefully saved buttons of all shapes, sizes, and materials.  After dinner, sometimes by firelight or lamplight, mothers would tend to the sewing chores.  My grandmother and mother each had a button tin, but buttons could be saved in a glass jar or an old sock.  When a piece of clothing was beyond repair, it would be saved for patches or quilt scraps and buttons would be removed and carefully saved.  They could be used again: an original form of recycling!

On a rainy day, older children could be entertained for hours sorting the buttons, using them as game pieces, or sewing them onto cardboard squares, creating pretty designs.  Most buttons were plain white or black, but sometimes, if Mom had once owned a fancy dress, there might be unique colored buttons mixed in the box, almost like hidden treasure!

Vintage buttons sewn onto cards.

As a child I was fascinated with the button tins of my mother and grandmother.  There were shiny onyx ovals, multi-colored glass globs, rhinestone-encrusted “jewels,” chunky wooden football-shaped fasteners from some long-forgotten overcoat, tiny pearl beads from a fancy blouse, little plastic butterfly-shaped buttons I begged my mother to sew on a dress for me (but she never did), and on and on.

Before glass and plastic buttons, buttons were made from bone, seashells, metal, wood, and, eventually porcelain and glass.  There is evidence that buttons were known and used as long ago as 5000 years.  Buttons have been found in tombs, shipwrecks, and battlefields, as well as dig up from farmers’ fields and colonial waste pits.

There are three main types of buttons: sew-through or pierced, shank, and stud.  Studs are mostly metal and have two parts that snap together.  The pierced and shank styles are the oldest designs, pierced pre-dating the shank version.  A shank button has a small protrusion on the reverse side with a hole in it to allow invisible fastening with thread.  Poorer folk used bone, wood, and seashell (if available) buttons, while the wealthy could indulge in glass, porcelain, and silver buttons.  Gold was not useful as it was too soft a metal.  In the 18th century, porcelain maker Josiah Wedgwood even tried his hand at buttons for fine men’s suits and women’s dresses, using his trademark cameo-like designs.

In the 20th century, as plastic became popular, buttons of celluloid and bakelite became the rage.  Especially bakelite, with its wide color palate of bright colors.  Metal, glass, and porcelain buttons were pretty much replaced with man-made composite buttons.

Today, vintage buttons appeal to those children who played with them all those years ago, but now as precious collections.  Most flea-markets and antique stores are good places to search for unusual buttons.  With the exception of truly rare buttons, most are affordable and make a good collector’s find.  In case you are fascinated but don’t have the time or inclination to start a button collection of your own, come to the Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center and check out our collection.  The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center’s hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 pm and by appointment (801-825-3633) and is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West, Syracuse, UT.

Published in: on September 11, 2012 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Mystery of the Red Glass Globe

Time for another of the history articles I write for the Islander.  Little did I know it, but this time it was a fortuitous choice of objects.  Here we are handling a potentially dangerous object should it slip from our hands and break.  This I learned when doing the research for the article.  The red glass globe is now safely locked in a cabinet so only your eyes can appreciate it!  Do any of my–well, let’s say, more mature readers–remember these?

The Mystery of the Red Glass Globe

Recently, when looking for ideas for a museum history article, I asked for suggestions.  One of the volunteers, Vivian Garrett, showed me a curious red glass globe housed in a metal bracket up on one of the shelves.  She shared with me that she likes to ask young visitors what they think it is.  I had never noticed it and the name on it–Red Comet–piqued my interest even further.  And so I dove head-long into the mystery of the red globe.

It’s bright red, glass, about the size of a big grapefruit and has liquid in it and a hint on the partially peeled off label: Red Comet Extinguisher, Littleton, Colorado.  So armed with that slim bit of information I started playing detective and searched for information.  What I found was surprising, involved door-to-door salesmen, and a potential haz-mat situation.  (Don’t worry, the Syracuse Fire Company knows we have one and are VERY careful with it!)

The mysterious Red Comet globe

The Red Comet Manufacturing Company was started way back in 1919 in a home garage just outside of Denver, Colorado.  Apparently, the business owner perceived a need for a handy home fire extinguisher system, and after a few years of experimenting with designs, the company offered its first product: the Red Comet.  This grenade-like device could work in two ways: mounted in the wire bracket on the wall, if there was a fire the globe could be removed and thrown at the base of the fire, shattering the glass and releasing the liquid to help extinguish the flames; the Red Comet also has a spring-loaded mechanism that when the clip holding the spring back burns off at 160 degrees, it sends a metal rod upwards into the glass where it shatters and spreads the fluid on the fire below (the clip on ours is missing).

The fluid wasn’t just water, but a special fire protection agent called carbon tetrachloride. Carbon tetrachloride is a clear substance (looks like water) but has a “sweet” smell and can be detected at very low levels of concentration. The use of this special agent was banned in 1980 due to environmental and safety hazards. The substance damaged the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys and repeatedly being exposed to this liquid can lead to death. Many firefighters were diagnosed with these problems after fires where there have been large amounts of the firefighting liquid in the buildings. Carbon tetrachloride was great in controlling fires, but it produced smoke which carried all the harmful particles from the substance into the air, and without proper personal protective equipment, such as a self-contained breathing apparatus, it was very easy to be exposed to the chemical. The Red Comet led the way in fire suppression mounting agents and was used to help design the water-based sprinklers that we see today. Although these old extinguishers turned out to be harmful to the health of people in and outside the fire, the ends justified the means, not to mention the mess the broken glass shards made.

Supposedly, when Red Comet began to manufacture the “automatic” style of extinguisher, they substituted the carbon tetrachloride with trichlorotrifluoroethane, which is a little less dangerous to humans than the carbon tetrachloride. The “dangerous to humans” problem with trichlorofluoroethane is that, when released, it eliminates the oxygen from the immediate environment, which can be bad for those of us who need oxygen to live.

So how do door-to-door salesmen figure into the mystery?   By 1933 the company had relocated to Littleton, Colorado.  After soldiers returned from World War II, everybody was looking for jobs. So Red Comet hired these former military servicemen and sent them door to door across the nation, like the Fuller Brush Man (remember him?), vacuum cleaner salesmen, or encyclopedia representatives.  The Red Comets were sold as a set of six or eight in a padded metal box.  The salesmen used a lot of testimonials from fire departments and they leaned heavily on “scare” tactics and dramatic photos of uncontrolled fires to sell their line mostly to housewives and automobile repair shops.

The Red Comet Company still exists, but has left the manufacturing of fire extinguishers to companies like Kidde.  It now sells brand name portable fire extinguishers, and offers inspections, recharging of fire extinguishers, and training.

Stop in the museum and check out our Red Comet and see if you can find other mysteries that need solving!  The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center’s hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 pm and by appointment (801-825-3633) and is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West, Syracuse, UT.

Published in: on September 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Big Thud

Did you hear a big thud on Saturday, the first day of September, and wonder what it was? I think I can clear up the mystery; it was autumn, dropping into Utah.

The week prior to Labor Day Weekend was summer hot out here. We watched as Hurricane Isaac wreaked havoc with the Gulf Coast while we baked in more desert sun. Then come September 1st, the temperature dropped dramatically, on cue the Canada geese flew overhead in a tight V-formation and the leaves on the trees started turning yellow and orange. We turned off the AC. I kid you not!

The days are visably getting shorter: sunrise above the mountains is after 7:00am and sunset is earlier and earlier in the evening. In our front room, which faces due east, we have artwork hanging. I watch as the sun travels across the walls and I have to cover the pictures to prevent sun damage. As the earth shifts, I cover different frames at different parts of the year. I’m now starting to cover the “winter walls.”

Then on Saturday afternoon, the storms rolled through, bringing wind, rain, and lightning and sharp cracks of thunder. The rain was welcome as it was the first long rain event we’ve had pretty much all summer. And it was timed perfectly with the annual Antelope Island Hot Air Balloon and Kite Stampede. We attended last year (see the early September 2011 blog posting for that experience), and I can say with confidence that no balloon went aloft at what would have been sunset. The professional kites, on the other hand, apparently really put on a show in the stiff wind. All was not lost though, the Saturday evening headliner entertainment, a Beatles Tribute Band (last year it was a Neil Diamond tribute vocalist) got its show in.

Intermittently, in the waning afternoon, the sun broke through the clouds and created several sets of rainbows in the east over the mountains.

Rainbows after the first storm.

When the clouds roll in, they obscure the mountains, and then the mountains will reemerge. These two shots were taken minutes apart.

No mountains, but a rainbow

Exit storm, stage left.

We usually get treated to double rainbows after a storm, but what a thrill to see a triple rainbow! That’s a first for us! In case you doubt me, check out the image I snapped.

A triple rainbow (third faint bow is on the right, just after the roof)

We’re harvesting vegetables like crazy, but now with the cooler weather here, things will slow down and start declining. The mini-pumpkins will be cut off soon so I can clean out the vines and leaves which are already starting to die off. We’ve been watching two cantaloupes that we hope to let grow as long as possible for late September harvest. The tomatoes will produce until the first frost, surprisingly late out here: early November.

So, for now, we just sit back and enjoy the cooler weather and hope for occasional rainstorms and start getting the snow shovels ready. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are just around the corner….

Published in: on September 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm  Leave a Comment